The closure of 34 radio stations has been ordered by the Venezuelan government, said the head of the national telecommunications regulator Conatel.
These closures were due to the stations’ inability to meet legal operating requirements, indicated Diosdado Cabello, who is also minister of public works in the government of president Hugo Chavez. Cabello also warned that more closures may follow.
“They will have to cease transmission once they have received the order”, Cabello said on Friday.
“This is about legitimate authority of the government to manage the radio spectrum… We are only implementing what the law says.”
CNB, airs in Caracas and nearby Valencia, is among the best known channels shut down. CNB is part of a national network that has been critical of the Venezuelan president.
A survey of radio broadcasters was launched last month by Conatel, asking them to present documentation showing the validity of their licences.
More than 200 stations are still under investigation for failing to update their registrations.
“It looks like a legal measurement but although it does comply with all kinds of regulations… it looks like the opposition is the most affected because the opposition does control most of the private radio stations”, said Al Jazeera’s Dima Khatib, reporting from the capital, Caracas.
“This is a very polarised society with very polarised media. You have the government media that shows you a perfect Venezuela where everyone is happy, and the opposition media shows you a very bad Venezuela where no-one is happy.”
The closures were described as an “enormous violation” by the Venezuelan Chamber of Radio Broadcasters.
The decision to close radio stations came while the government is formulating a new media law that would set out prison sentences for “media crimes”.
According to Human Rights Watch, the proposed law would “reduce the ability of government critics to voice their opinions and will seriously limit freedom of expression in Venezuela.”
In the same time, an election law to redraw voting districts was approved by the Venezuelan parliamentarians on Friday. Opponents of Hugo Chavez say this step will give his party a big advantage in next year’s congressional vote.
Venezuela’s proportional representation system is also changed by the law, in a way that is likely to hurt smaller parties.
The bill easily passed the national assembly, which is dominated by Chavez allies.